By Robin Entress, LCSW
Director of Community and Home-Based Services at CCGC
It’s been a very long winter. If you’ve been feeling spring fever for a while, this could be because your body knows that being outside is good for you. Many studies have shown that being outdoors really does make us feel better.
5 ways getting outdoors improves your mental health…
- Our brain works better: this includes concentration skills, attention span, and memory. Children with ADHD have better brain functioning after being outside, when compared with doing the same activity indoors.
- Depression improves after walking in a natural setting, more-so than a walk in the mall. Being outdoors makes us happy and decreases stress levels. This has been verified with physiological and neurological tests. Since certain smells can reduce stress (e.g. pine, roses, lilacs), smelling the great outdoors may play a part in improved mood as well. Also, large bodies of water give off ‘negative ions.’ Negative ions, found near any water source, lessen many health ailments and increase the levels of serotonin in the blood, so have a great effect on your mood.
- Being outdoors makes exercising easier and there is lots of evidence that exercise is good for our mental health. It helps improve focus and increases our attention span. Exercise also can lead to a calmer, more positive outlook due to changes in the brain chemistry.
- Sleep quality is improved after spending time outdoors. And getting a good night’s sleep leads to physical, mental and emotional benefits, including reduced irritability and better mood. Long term sleep deficits put you at greater risk of depression.
- Healthy vitamin D levels lead to better mood, energy level, and overall health. Small periods of time (10 to 15 min. per day in the summer sun) without sunscreen provide all the vitamin D you need. Also, sunshine is a much better way for your body to absorb vitamin D when compared to food or vitamins.
… and 5 ways spending time with your family improves your family’s mental health!
Who wouldn’t want to get the benefits of spending time outdoors, right? And think of how much more beneficial spending time outdoors could be when combined with family time. Again, lots of studies have shown how important spending time together as a family is.
- Family members feel important and loved when they spend quality time together. This leads to a sense of belonging and improved self-esteem.
- Being together gives you time to listen and share. And kids tend to share more when they are doing something with their parents, compared with when parents just ask questions.
- Spending time together allows family members to get to know each other better, to appreciate what is special about each member, and build their relationships.
- Parents can teach kids new skills and be positive role models.
- Children who spend regular quality time with their parents have better grades and better attitudes.
Of course, not all family members are equally willing to go outside, even for planned events. Try the suggestions below and remind them of all the benefits!
Barriers to getting outdoors:
- “It’s too hot”: spend time outdoors in the morning or evening hours, spend time in the shade, or spend time near the water (and bring water to drink).
- “I hate bugs”: bring the bug spray; there are lots of children’s books and kids’ websites about bugs to make them seem less scary or annoying; and check out this website about how to avoid tick bites: https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/avoid/on_people.html
- “I’m too busy”: go outside in small doses, bring outside an activity you would normally do inside.
To get you started thinking of ways you can spend time outdoors, here are some ideas:
- Hiking or walking
- Picnics (including in your own backyard)
- Skipping stones and splashing in water
- Going to a pool, lake or beach (remember those negative ions!)
- Watching a sunrise or sunset
- Playing at a playground,
- Making a dandelion chain or looking for 4 leaf clovers
- Looking for and listening to birds
- Walking through a garden
- Just feeling the wind and the sun on your skin
- Creating chalk drawings on the driveway
A national organization called No Child Left Inside has a Connecticut chapter which promotes unplugging from electronic devices and spending time outdoors. The website lets people know about CT State parks and forests, outside activities and lots more: http://www.ct.gov/ncli/site/default.asp
Looking for more local ideas? Check out this list of the top 10 playgrounds in the Hartford Area!
Now go outside and make some happy memories!